The M division is back on form with the new M4 GTS which has resolutely impressed, the Competition Package and some recent updates for the M3 and M4 have righted some of the wrongs of the original car, and the little M2 is a fun and deeply enjoyable package.
Performance and 0-100 time
The DCT (dual-clutch transmission) equipped M2 officially dashes from 0-100km/h in just 4.3 seconds, putting it 0.2 seconds faster in a straight line than the manual car. But, when we tested the DCT M2 with our timing equipment, the best we could achieve was 4.5sec to 100km/h.
Even if we could get the M2 to match its official figures, with 272kW it’s certainly quick enough. The M2’s turbocharged, 2979cc, in-line six cylinder engine puts out 500Nm from as low as 1450rpm and up to 4750rpm. It is a muscular feeling engine, and there is decent acceleration in all but the most inappropriately high gears.
Top speed, as you’d expect, is limited to 250km/h. But all out speed isn’t what the M2 is best at, it’s about fun and involvement so you don’t really want for more speed. Even so, that hasn’t stopped tuners like AC Schnitzer increasing the engine’s output to 300kW and reducing the 0-100km/h time to 4.1sec. In reality the additional performance isn’t really noticeable, and the Schnitzer improvements retain the M2’s dependable but fast character.
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Engine and gearbox
The M2 makes do with the engine from an M235i, albeit with a smattering of M3 and M4 components as well as a few bespoke parts. They all share a 3-litre straight-six engine block, but the M3/4 gets twin turbo chargers rather than the single twin-scroll unit that the M2 and M235i have.
To gain some extra power over the M235i, the M2 has a larger intercooler and uses the pistons and forged crankshaft from the M3/4. It also has a modified sump, to help cope with the higher g-forces on track.
At 270kW it sits in the middle, in terms of power, between the M240i (the replacement for the M235i) with 250kW and the M3/4 with 315kW. The engine’s behaviour slots into the same hierarchy, too; it isn’t as brutal as the M3 and M4’s ‘six and it doesn’t chase round to the red line in such an aggressive and enthusiastic manner. However it’s smoother, more linear and more predictable, while still being wilder than the conventional motor in the M240i.
The engine might not be anything to get truly excited about, but it does endow the M2 with more than enough performance and contributes to its sublime control.
There are two gearboxes available on the M2: a six-speed manual and a seven speed dual-clutch transmission. The contrast between the two is marked, while the manual allows complete involvement and further access to the manageable handling, the DCT feels like a blunt instrument. In Sport and Sport Plus driving modes, the semi-auto hammers each gear home with such force the rear tyres can barely cope. At full throttle, as one clutch reengages the drivetrain the rear wheels jolt causing the car to wiggle from the back. The extra ratio seems unnecessary too; the torquey six cylinder is more than capable with just six gears.
Ride and handling
The 2-series has been totally reworked to create the M2; compared to an M235i, it’s 8mm lower, the front track is 58mm wider, the rear is 45mm wider and wheelbase is 3mm longer. The M3/4’s front and rear aluminium suspension is carried over to the M2 too, and the rear axle remains solidly mounted just as on the bigger M car.
The M2’s ride is firm, without switchable dampers (none of the driving modes change the dampers, and they can’t be adjusted individually either) it stays firm all the time. On rough UK roads there are times you wish for a little more complicacy, especially as the rear axle can feel a little wayward over the harshest of bumps and undulations. It’s only on the worst roads this issue presents itself though, and it’s still not as pronounced or as unnerving as the similar feeling rear axle of the early BMW M3 and M4s. Recent upgrades to the bigger car have all but solved the unpredictable back axle, hopefully BMW will implement the same tactics on the M2 soon.
What the M4 does have, over the M2, is an insanely direct and grippy front axle. The M2 doesn’t feel particularly lacking in front-end grip, but it doesn’t turn-in with the same agility and the front tyres don’t hold on with quite as much tenacity.
The M2’s shorter wheelbase endows it with a natural nimbleness though, so you don’t feel you need the same determinedly direct front-end. In fact, the chassis responds naturally enough as it is, that the M4’s front end could ruin the M2’s fluidity.
It is that flow that is most impressive, the way you can easily and confidently generate a rhythm when driving quickly. The chassis, grip, engine, diff and steering all add up to create such an intuitive driving experience.
If you judge your speed well and brake late into a corner, you can start to feel the car want to rotate simply on turn-in. It doesn’t break traction, or even transition into oversteer, but you get a sense of how nimble the M2 is.
Once you’ve experienced that slight rotation you can get on the throttle and use the acceleration to help you round the rest of the corner, the throttle directly influencing your line. The engine’s vast amounts of torque mean that the rear tyres, that already seem to be close to their limits, are easily overwhelmed.
What the rear axle lacks in vertical damping and body control it more than makes up for in the amount of it communicates to the driver, sending masses of information about just how much grip the tyres have at any given time.
Once the rear wheels have started to spin, the engine’s response and linear delivery means the rear is easy to control. You can regain grip with a small lift, maintain a nice neat slide around the corner with a fairly constant throttle, or add more throttle for a bigger slide.
There’s a minimal amount of roll, especially at the rear. This lack of body roll adds to your confidence in the M2, you never have to wait for the body to respond it’s instantly there with you. It also means that weight transfer is small, and so recovering from a slide is neat and satisfying.
Thanks to such a transparent chassis, you can keep the M2 near its limits corner after corner. There’s not a lot of feedback from the steering, but that’s not a problem as you can easily judge the car’s limits from the clear information transmitted through the suspension.
The M2 is shod with set of bespoke Michelin Pilot Super Sports, a lot of how controllable the car is, can be attributed to these tyres and how well the chassis and drivetrain has been developed to work with them. The way the rear remains controllable and adjustable, even once the tyres have broken traction, just adds to your confidence in the M2 even more.
In the wet, the M2 still doesn’t behave like a scary, wild, turbocharged, rear wheel drive car that you might expect it to. Its limits are lower and some understeer is more detectable, but it’s not particularly pronounced and is easily quelled with a good jab of the throttle.
On the manual car, the throttle automatically blips for every down-change. It’s very competent, and matches the revs perfectly without fault. However, if you’ve spent your driving career trying to perfect the art of the heel-and-toe, you’ll still want to do it yourself. The only way to turn off this function is to turn off all of the traction aids.
If you’re used to the M3 or M4, turning off the traction control completely is a daunting prospect; you need to be brave and alert. It’s different in the M2 though, because despite the short wheelbase, the handling is more predictable and the engine offers much more control.
In fact, with the traction control left on (even in its more relaxed MDM state) it feels less of a safety net and more of a frustration. If you choose to reach an angle of slide that is just a touch too great, the computer kills all the fun immediately. If you do prefer the added security of some traction control, and you don’t attempt too large a slide, the MDM still allows for some fun – even if you do have to make do with the auto blip downshifts.
There is no carbon ceramic brake option for the M2, and on the road that is perfectly fine as the cast iron units never seem to get too hot – even on a long, spirited drive down a Spanish mountain road. However, the brakes don’t offer quite the same level of clarity that the rest of the car does.
They are dependable and effective, but aren’t very progressive. The top portion of the pedal travel is where most of the braking force happens. After that, to stop more drastically requires a much deeper press of the pedal. On the road, it’s not a problem most of the time as you stay within the top part of the pedal travel, even when driving hard.
That is until you misjudge your speed, even by a fraction. To scrub off enough speed you then have to press the brake pedal beyond the sensitive top fraction and the car doesn’t continue to decelerate at the same pace. All that’s required to rectify this is a harder press of the pedal, and you do so. But, the moment where the brakes aren’t with you, although brief, is just long enough to make your heart skip a beat.
On track the M2 is feisty, wanting to oversteer almost everywhere. Stringing together a neat lap isn’t easy, but it is fun and demanding trying to do so.
If you feel tempted to modify your M2 there are plenty of options, one of which includes BMW’s own in-house M Performance range of parts. They don’t add any extra power or torque, but a set of height adjustable coilovers allows you to change the height and stance of the car. Amazingly, the new springs and dampers barely change the car’s behavior.
Renowned BMW tuners, AC Schnitzer, offers more power as well as chassis upgrades, but the results aren’t dramatic. It’s certainly not as intense as AC Schnitzer’s wild ACL2, a thoroughly modified M235i with the twin-turbo engine from the M4 with 275kW.
The M2 has the poise that a great BMW M car should have. It might not posses the same sort of aggression as its bigger siblings, but because of that it’s more wieldy, more controllable, more predictable and, ultimately, even more fun car to drive quickly.
Interior and tech
If you’re familiar with the BMW 2-series Coupe’s insides, you’ll be familiar with the M2’s as well because not a lot is different within the cabin. That’s not, in itself, a bad thing, as the interior of the 2-series is an all right place; it’s functional, well put together with nice materials but not the last word in luxury or sportiness
To make it feel slightly more special, there’s M tricolour stitching on the steering wheel and an M badge embossed into the leather of the seats. As is de rigueur for a performance car, there is carbonfibre trim inside; the M2 has ‘raw’ carbonfibre, not set in any resin, around the door pulls and centre console. It’s a nice departure from the usual, shiny carbon and looks pleasantly understated.
If you opt for the DCT ‘box then, rather than the tall shifter used in ordinary BMW’s equipped with automatic transmissions, you get the short, teardrop-like M stick. It is smaller and neater, but makes it awkward to engage park – it isn’t a mere press of a button marked P, you need to turn the car off while it’s still in gear rather than neutral.
The BMW M2 covers its wider track with bloated arches, like rounded box arches that swell gradually down the sides and it looks very much like a junior version of the M4. It’s a butch, purposeful looking machine, but doesn’t quite have the stance or drama of the older 1M Coupe, that had abruptly flared arches.
In the presence of an M240i, the M2 looks stocky and incredibly aggressive. The changes made over the standard car make it difficult to believe they’re even related.